Six Things We Learned From Lil Nas X's 'Montero'

After two years of hype and social media brilliance, Lil Nas X finally released his debut album, Montero, on September 17th. The record features a tasteful selection of collaborators — from Megan Thee Stallion, Elton John, and Miley Cyrus, to Jack Harlow and Doja Cat. And for all of Nas X’s online antics over the years, it’s clear that he’s been honing in on the music in equal measure. Here are six observations from our early listens to Montero.

Lil Nas X Is Our New Petty King 

Where Drake’s petty posturing by now feels stale, Nas X’s emotional grievances cut deep. There are references to failed romance and familial strife. In his recent profile in the New York Times Magazine, we learned about how Lil Nas X’s religious upbringing made it difficult for him to embrace his sexuality. Throughout the album, Nas X makes subtle references to the doubts he faced early on in his career. On “Dead Right Now” he raps: “Left school, then my dad and I had a face-to-face in Atlanta/He said, ‘It’s one in a million chance, son,’ I told him, ‘Daddy, I am that one — uh, uh-uh’,” before adding, “I ain’t never need him, huh, I ain’t never need no nigga, uh.” Elsewhere on the track, he raps, “My momma told me that she love me, don’t believe her.” Lines like these are emotionally resonant in their vulnerability and honesty. Whereas Drake, the reigning petty king of pop music, will use a sample of an ex’s voicemail in a song about missing her, Lil Nas X is here airing out genuine frustrations with family members.

Is That Travis Scott? Nope, It’s Lil Nas X

In addition to being unflinchingly autobiographical, “Dead Right Now” sounds a lot like Travis Scott’s “90210.” Nas X’s flow resembles the chart-topping rapper’s iconic cadence, but with an added emotional depth. More than mimicry, Nas X finds a way to bend the sounds of contemporary rap to his will. Elsewhere, like on the excellent Doja Cat-assisted “Scoop,” he sounds not too far off from DaBaby. The resemblance is itself ironic, given DaBaby’s recent controversies, but here, as on “Dead Right Now,” Nas X makes a compelling case for his style reigning supreme. Nas X is perhaps our first look at how Gen Z superstars, steeped in an overabundance of references, can build on existing textures to create sounds that are at once familiar and brand new.

Lil Nas X Does Not Have Time for Genre

It’s hard to define exactly what genre Montero belongs in. On songs like “Industry Baby” and “Don’t Want It,” he sounds fit for the hip-hop charts. Meanwhile, on the bracing and heartfelt “Lost In The Citadel,” he’s in a dynamic pop-punk mood. It of course speaks to the way Lil Nas X came onto the scene, essentially breaking down the very idea of the country music charts. What’s interesting about Montero, however, is how cohesive the divergent sounds feel. Why shouldn’t we get a taste of pop, country, and alternative rock on an album full of genuinely impressive rapping? Lil Nas X will surely face a fair share of chart controversy in the coming weeks as industry insiders grapple with how exactly to define him. One imagines he wouldn’t have it any other way.

We Need a Joint Lil Nas X and Megan Thee Stallion Album ASAP 

A lot of collaborators describe having chemistry with another musician, but few can match the synergy of hearing Megan Thee Stallion’s calling card “real hot girl shit!” bursting through a Lil Nas X track. On “Dolla Sign Slime,” which might be the best song on the album, Nas X does what none of the men who’ve hopped on Megan’s tracks in the past could do, which is embody what “hot girl shit” really means. The track is brief, but both parties make easy work of their detractors. Nas X, sounding again like a more entertaining DaBaby, is almost sinister in his perfection. If his sexuality makes you think he doesn’t belong in hip-hop, he’s happy to remind you who is, in fact, the better rapper. Meanwhile, Megan is playful but vicious. If anyone thought these two were the ones to play with, they should think twice.

Lil Nas X Is Basically a Member of the Cyrus Family 

After blasting off into the stratosphere with his “Old Town Road” remix featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, Lil Nas X closes Montero with “Am I Dreaming,” a touching ballad featuring Miley Cyrus. There’s something to be said for being able to make hit records with an entire family. For her part, Miley Cyrus lets her talents shine, sounding like her hero Stevie Nicks and providing this triumph of an album with a fitting close. By now it’s safe to call Lil Nas X an honorary Cyrus.

Lil Nas X Knows How To Be Concise  

Despite containing what feels like an entire universe of music, Lil Nas X’s album is a normal length. At 15 songs and just over 40 minutes, it’s a surprisingly traditional album from Gen Z’s most famous disruptor. Trends move in cycles, after all, so perhaps young musicians like Lil Nas X will begin to rebel against the bloated albums of the streaming era. 

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